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As the end of 2021 looms near, now is the time for employers and HR professionals to start preparing for the year ahead and align their internal goals with larger HR trends that are emerging.
Newly published research from Gartner has revealed HR leaders’ top priorities for 2022.
The survey of more than 500 HR leaders from various industries across the globe demonstrates how certain HR trends are likely to manifest in the workplace.
While the findings are in keeping with similar trends from previous research, Arj Bagga, Director of HR Advisory at Gartner, says the drivers of their priorities have shifted in light of COVID-19.
Companies prioritising efforts to upskill their workforce has been common practice for a number of years, but this trend has been supercharged by the pandemic.
“The thing that’s changed is the urgency around building skills. It’s possibly greater than ever before,” says Bagga.
The need for businesses to pivot their approach – in many instances, transitioning to a digital-first model – has fast tracked the focus on digital skills. Limited access to overseas talent has also contributed to this need.
“We don’t have access to the same talent pools as we did before, so if we think about engineering talent and data science talent coming out of the US, UK and across Asia, we’re no longer able to tap into that.
“In planning for three to five years time, a lot of organisations have realised that the skills they will need don’t nicely package into the current roles they have.”
Organisations are creating new roles to address this issue, he says, but he advocates for a more fundamental change in mindset from organisations and employees viewing skills development as a ‘nice-to-have’ to a ‘must-have’.
Upskilling employees isn’t just about developing brand new skills in areas of growth, but identifying current skills that might be redundant in years to come, he adds.
“If an employee needs five skills to do a job, it’s likely that two of the current skills they have will no longer be relevant in five years, and they’ll be adding two more skills.
“One in three current skills will be redundant by 2022, so that helps to provide capacity for upskilling.”
Skills that could be deemed unnecessary are those that are predicated on transactional, repetitive or operational – i.e. those ripe for automation.
For some actionable tips on how to develop employees’ digital skills, read HRM’s article on overcoming the critical skills shortage.
It’s easy for employees to resist changes in the workplace – whether that’s to the composition of teams, a particular process, or the type of work they’re doing.
Even if the change is likely to boost productivity or strengthen performance, change often means navigating uncharted waters, which can be an uncomfortable, exhausting and anxiety provoking experience for many employees.
HR leaders have certainly found that to be the case, with 54 per cent of 274 leaders saying their employees are suffering from change fatigue.
With 48 per cent of HR leaders saying organisational design and change management is their top priority for 2022, it’s imperative to find ways of making change a less unsettling experience for employees.
Bagga dispels a key myth that often does the rounds in workplaces.
“HR leaders typically design their change strategies to help mitigate the volume of change.One of the perceptions in HR is that the volume of changing experiences is the key factor driving the fatigue levels.”
There are two factors that are driving change fatigue.
“One is exertion, so the level of effort we expect employees to display in implementing change, and the second is disruption to an employee’s workflow when a change is implemented.”
He posits that focusing on how to reduce the volume isn’t a sustainable exercise because “looking at the way that organisations are moving, the volume of changes is only expected to increase”.
It’s important, then, that employers find ways of making changes that aren’t disruptive or exertive.
The key to doing this lies in building employees’ resilience, says Bagga, noting how the role of a manager has evolved from solely driving productivity and performance, to taking a more active stance in supporting their employees’ mental health.
Building a more resilient workforce requires employers to lead from a place of empathy.
“The nature of a manager’s role these days is very different to what it was three or five years ago,” says Bagga.
“A lot of employees are burning out so the sustainability of their performance is at risk. It’s a manager’s role to be able to help build that resilience.”
Employers need to consider emotional and people skills when promoting employees into managerial positions.
Gartner’s research found that 45 per cent of HR leaders would be placing the development of current and future leaders as their top priority for 2022.
Bagga advises that developing leaders’ emotional skills should be a key focus.
“How can we create a mindset around empathy and provide the capacity for managers to be more empathetic?”
Another trend he’s observed is employees seeking more informal leadership opportunities.
“People are looking at their individual contribution, and where they can play a coaching and mentoring role across the organisation rather than having formal responsibility over a person or a whole team’s performance,” says Bagga.
Many companies are guiding their workforce through tough periods by having many people wearing informal mentorship or leadership hats, he says.
The diversification of coaching roles across an organisation might also reduce the pressure placed on one manager to be the sole support person for an employee.
“The idea of a coach has shifted from someone who provides feedback on every single skill to an employee, to managers being more of a broker to the right experts across the business. Their role is identifying skill needs and pairing an employee up with the right coach and mentor rather than always providing that coaching and mentoring themselves.”
Forty-two per cent of HR leaders selected planning for the future of work as their main priority for 2022.
“One of the things HR leaders need to start doing as part of their strategic thinking is scenario planning.”
This involves assessing and evaluating the data, looking [for] trends that could impact business continuity, and creating contingency plans around those scenarios, rather than just one fixed strategy.”
Organisations need to remain adaptable and willing to alter plans at short notice in response to internal or external shifts.
“Once you create a strategy, be willing to iterate and flex on it as changing circumstances arise, rather than being fixed on that one plan or strategy. You need to be able to amend it when needed.”
Bagga suggests organisations prepare by thinking about scenario planning in two ways:
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